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LAPD colleagues tried to intervene when cop used cruiser to knock down armed suspect, review board rules

Chief Michel Moore and an internal LAPD review board found the officer, Oswaldo Pedemonte, had broken from policy when he drove into the knife-wielding suspect at a slow speed

By Libor Jany
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Two Los Angeles police officers tried to intervene when a colleague intentionally struck a knife-wielding man with a department SUV last year in an attempt to disarm the man — a maneuver that the civilian Police Commission has now ruled was a clear violation of LAPD policy.

Commissioners agreed with Chief Michel Moore and an internal Los Angeles Police Department review board that found the officer, Oswaldo Pedemonte, had broken from policy when he drove into 31-year-old Jonathan Mitrani at a slow speed, knocking him to the ground during an encounter in North Hollywood last February.

Mitrani had been walking toward the vehicle, knife in hand, after leading officers on a slow procession along Burbank Boulevard, during which police struck him several times with a stun gun and a projectile launcher.

Moore concluded that Mitrani appeared intoxicated in police videos and did not pose an immediate threat to Pedemonte as the officer sat “in his police vehicle with the windows rolled up, protected by the ballistic panels,” the chief wrote in a report he presented to the commission. The review board had found that Pedemonte could have driven away if he felt he were in danger, and Moore agreed.

“The Board noted that the Department does not train officers to use the police vehicle as an impact weapon and that there was no imminent threat to Officer Pedemonte or any other person to justify the use of the police vehicle in that manner,” Moore wrote.

His report says that Pedemonte drove the SUV at 2 to 3 mph into Mitrani, who briefly grabbed the hood before being sent sprawling onto the pavement.

The incident, which drew significant news coverage at the time, began after a 911 call that reported Mitrani had shown up drunk and after curfew at a facility where he was living, in violation of the facility’s rules. A Los Angeles Fire Department dispatcher followed up with a request for police backup, saying Mitrani had a knife and appeared suicidal.

Responding officers found Mitrani outside the facility and tried to get him to approach them, but he ignored their commands and instead began walking away.

The review board unanimously condemned Pedemonte’s actions.

Moore’s report also said that four officers involved in the encounter were late to activate their body cameras.

Moore sided with the minority of board members who found that Pedemonte’s decision to get into his vehicle to follow Mitrani didn’t necessarily violate department rules.

Pedemonte’s use of a Taser earlier in the encounter was found to be within policy. Other police actions during the incident were also found to be within LAPD policy or otherwise justified.

The officers found to have violated policy could face discipline ranging from written reprimands to termination. Any proposed discipline is protected by privacy laws and can be appealed before the LAPD’s Board of Rights. Further appeals can be taken up in state court.

Under department rules, an officer has a duty to intervene when they see another officer using unreasonable force.

Upon seeing Pedemonte begin to drive toward Mitrani, Officer Geovanny Salazar and a supervisor, Sgt. Joseph Fleming, tried to intercede.

Salazar yelled, “Wait, wait, wait, stop, stop, stop!” and Fleming repeatedly shouted, “No!”

Moore and the review board faulted Pedemonte for not alerting his fellow officers of his intentions when he got into the SUV and later drove into the suspect.

In an interview with Det. John Macchiarella, who is part of the LAPD unit that investigates serious uses of force, Pedemonte said he feared being trapped inside the vehicle if Mitrani got any closer.

“So I thought to myself — I go, you know what? I’m gonna use the vehicle as an impact weapon,” Pedemonte said, according to a transcript from the interview, adding that he “did not want to run him over.”

In another recent ruling, the civilian commission said that three Rampart Division officers were justified in fatally shooting a woman who had pointed what turned out to be a replica revolver in their direction.

While faulting one or more of the officers for not seeking cover at times and for using profanity, officials said that their use of lethal force fell within policy because they opened fire only after the woman, Mariela Cardenas, had pointed what appeared to be a real revolver at them.

The officers had no way of knowing in the moment that the gun was fake, officials concluded.

One of the involved officers was Jacqueline McBride, the daughter of a police union official. McBride, who also has a sister on the force, became the third member of her immediate family to shoot someone in the line of duty, according to previous reporting.

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